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City planning chief reviews accomplishments, issues
Tuesday, 02 April 2019 22:47

From Staff Reports

Asheville Planning Director Todd Okolichany began his presentation with much laughter from the audience — as Okolichany joined in the merriment — after Buzzy Cannady, chief and emcee of the Council of Independent Business Owners, mispronounced the head city planner’s last name in his introduction.

Cannady introduced him as Todd “Okeechobee” — as in Lake Okeechobee, also known as Florida’s “inland sea,” which is the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida. The CIBO meeting was held March 1 at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

After the laughter died down, Okolichany, who seemed to relish the humor in the situation, told Cannady with a reassuring smile, “Just call me ‘Todd O.’”

As for the Planning Department’s 2018 accomplishments, Okolichany said, “Last year, we reviewed as a department … 35 total projects.”

He also said, the city “adopted the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan. This is our document for the future,” including strategies for transportation, affordable and the environment. “It’s almost 400 pages.”

He also said the city adoped the South Slope Vision Plan, which is a roadmap for Asheville’s southern central business district.

“A major focus is Coxe Avenue and some adjoining streets,” Okolichany said, “We’re in the process of transforming those streets.”

He added that, in 2018, long-needed updates to the Downtown Master Plan were approved: “A lot has changed since 2009, when it was last updated,” he noted.

“There’s a need to see how we manage our downtown space... We want to make sure we have the right policies and critieria.

To that end, Okolichany said Section One covers public space management, Section Two cover code and design guideline updates and Section Three features the streetscape master plan

Also in 2018, some code amendments were adopted, including changes to lodging use regulations.

What’s more, he said that changes were made to definitions in the outdoor lighting zoning amendment. In general, Okolichany said, “We opened up our outdoor lighting,”

Rhetorically, Okolichany asked, “Where are we going for the next year? Our fiscal year starts July 1. First is implementing the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan…. We’re looking at areas along Patton (Avenue), Merrimon (Avenue), Tunnel Road, and Bleachery Boulevard... 

“Also, we’re looking at corridor planning for Tunnel Road, South Tunnel Road and Hendersonville Road... So we’re going to slow down our process and try to get input from our community.

“We’re also looking at Haywood Street and Page Avenue city-owned property design... It’s call the ‘Pit of Despair,’” Okolichany said with a grimace, as the crowd laughed. 

Also, he said, “We’re looking at a road diet to convert Charlotte Street from four lanes to three lanes.” (The fourth lane would be limited to bicycles).

During a brief Q&A session, an unidentified man said, “I’m somewhat concerned, being a developer, that the company that owned property in Biltmore Village… They were denied (city approval) to build that thing (a hotel). They had a $5 million or $6 million investment. That’s not going to encourage” others.

“Is there a way to ensure if they go through that many steps that they’ll be guaranteed they’ll get approval?” he asked.

“I think we need to put more predictability in the process,” Okolichany replied.

City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, who gave a different presentation on another topic at the meeting, then interjected, “I’d just like to echo that I didn’t hear anything about that hotel. I thinks starting early with council.”

CIBO member Albert Sneed then said he wanted to know “What a road diet is?”

Okolichany said tha the proposed “road diet” would affect the section “between Chestnut Road to Edmonds Place on Charlotte Street... What it would be is take one southbound and northbound lane — and one turning lane. The other (driving) lane would be used for bicyclists and pedestrians.”

The planner added that, “In the last decade, there have been “about 100 crashes” on that stretch of Charlotte Street.

Some traffic studies have shown that that section of Charlotte Street has averaged 20,000 cars, at one point,” but, lately, that number has dropped to 12,000 cars, “so there’s been a decrease on Charlotte Street.”

Yet, Okolichany admitted that “we have seen some levels of (traffic) increases during rush hour in morning and late afternoon.” Ultimately, the planner said of the road diet plan, “the intent is safety.”

Regarding an assertion earlier by Mayfield, an unidentified man said, “There’s a systemic problem with your answer. I, too, have been a developor (in Asheville) for more than 30 years... We need rules where we don’t have to make it public and involve politics in it. The answer (from Mayfiend): ‘Get with your politician’ is not an answer for a systemic problem.”



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